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From Mizzou to Mars

Engineering alumnus works on Mars Ascent Vehicle.

Christopher Whetsel headshot

Christopher Whetsel

March 8, 2021

A University of Missouri engineer’s digital fingerprints will be on the Mars Ascent Vehicle when it makes its historic voyage to the Red Planet in 2026. Christopher Whetsel, a 2019 graduate, works at NASA and has been involved in the program both on the software engineering and project management side.

“It’s part of the Mars Sample Return Program and aims to take samples of Martian dirt and return them to Earth so they can be studied in labs here,” Whetsel said.

No doubt a lot of hands will have been involved by the time the vehicle heads to space, and every step is crucial for ultimate success.

“It’s a very long process and takes a lot of time and a lot of pieces to make it work,” Whetsel said. “The Mars Ascent Vehicle is just a small part. But every part is important because if one part fails, the whole mission could fail.”

Whetsel earned a degree in computer science from the College of Engineering, where he learned the diverse skills he’s putting to use at NASA today. “At Mizzou, I got exposed to a lot of different kinds of work,” he said. “I got a very high-quality engineering degree, and I learned everything I needed to be a successful engineer in the computer science field.”

For others looking to the night sky and pining for a similar career, Whetsel says be patient but persistent. And make sure you’re prepared when opportunity knocks.

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